Many people are resisting coming back into the office. As I said in my last post, overcoming the inertia of two years of working remotely is hard. It’s tough if all your organization offers is the same hum-drum day of tasks but with an hour commute on each side.
If you’re trying to jump-start your team back into a new office groove, why not start by creating a few months that are chock-a-block with the best of teamwork. So here’s what I would be sprinkling into my schedule:
An Office That’s Worth the Commute
- Buddies: We know that remote work made it challenging to build skills (or know where there were capability gaps). I read about one social learning technique that I thought was brilliant. You pair people up and have them interview one another about one thing they have learned and one thing they’re still trying to figure out. This method reduces the friction of asking for help and allows good ideas to spread. Schedule a one-hour buddy session on an office day each month.
- Customer or Partner Meet-Ups: Many people have gone over two years without interacting directly with key customers or partners—time to fix that. Invite guests into the office and assign someone to host them. Make the host responsible for soliciting questions in advance and setting up the conversations. Have the customers or partners participate in a panel discussion in front of the whole team and arrange smaller meet-and-greets before and after.
- Mission Control Spaces: Create a central space in the office that’s visually appealing and full of tools to get people contributing ideas and building on one another’s suggestions. I’d be ordering vinyl stencils of inspiring quotes or company strategies. I’d be covering one wall in paper and buying the funkiest sticky notes I could find. I’d have piles of markers lying around and a stack of stickers that people could use to react to the ideas. I would do everything to make this space as tactile and un-digital as possible. I’d then call out the coolest things I read on the wall in a weekly message with the whole team.
- Breaking Bread: Create opportunities to eat around a table together. It can be as simple as bringing bagels once a month, as inexpensive as having time for everyone to eat their lunches together, or as elaborate as a full team dinner. What matters is that you create downtime where people can eat and chat informally.
- New Employee Milestones: I’d have in-office events for newer employees at various milestones. All the new employees from a given month would come together for a full day of orientation. Three months later, I’d have them back for a listening and learning session where you interview them about their insights. At six months, the focus could be on a specific initiative, value, or cultural pillar. You could even have the six-month day be a group outing for community service.
- Communities of Interest: During remote work, evidence suggests that we did a decent job fostering trust and connection within our intact teams but didn’t do quite as well in maintaining relationships across teams. Now’s a great time to build a few communities of interest that cut across your formal organizational boundaries. It might be a customer experience group that draws from all different functions. It could be a group for those who aspire to leadership positions. Make time and space and provide funding or connections that allow the group to learn together.
- Joint Team Sessions: Host a session with another team in the organization where you’re strengthening relationships and deepening understanding among team members. Include a tour, a project update, or a deep dive on a topic. Take turns with which team plays host.
- Office Hours: Set times when you are available to chat with team members on any topic that they’d like. Don’t sit in your office if you want to make it clear that this is welcomed and not an interruption. Grab a spot in a common area and leave your computer behind. Grab a magazine. Or schedule a couple of people to join you at the start of each office hour and invite others to drop in. If you want to be playful, have a theme snack (popcorn, donuts, ice cream sandwiches in summer).
- Community Building: If your organization supports charitable work, use an afternoon to break the team into different groups to go out into the community. Give employees some options and flexibility about how they’d like to contribute, and then let the work be the reward.
- Blue Light Specials: Do you remember “Blue Light Specials” at Kmart. I do. There would be a blue light flashing in an aisle and an announcement of a quick sale on something in that aisle. “Blue Light Special on sleeping bags, Aisle 14!” I think people bought sleeping bags because of the hype and because they didn’t want to miss out. What if you did the same in your office. Number your whiteboards and have a blue light special. “Blue Light Special White Board 3… all great ideas for the name of the new product.” You probably don’t have a public address system, but an email would do. Everyone who’s available gathers at the whiteboard to brainstorm for 10 minutes.
None of these ideas is earth-shattering, but it’s the spirit that counts. So what can you do to make returning to the office worthwhile? How can you add more collaborative, social events to your calendar? What have you seen that really worked? Share your ideas in the comments and we’ll create a really great resource!
More on This: Return-to-Office Miniseries
We are botching the return-to-office transition. We need to talk less about individual productivity and talk more about the obligation to contribute to healthy teams and organizations. But leaders, the price of admission to that conversation is to give up some control so employees can optimize their experience and to reset how the workweek is used so we have less overflow into personal time.